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The Best of Eastern European Capitals
I love Paris. I love London. I even love Rome, but why is it that when we start thinking of buying a ticket to Europe we don’t consider some of the lesser-known capital cities? Recently Jim and I have made it a point to really explore Eastern Europe more. We’ve found the cities to be loaded with beautiful architecture, delicious foods, and plenty to do. But do you know what the best part is? They are all a fraction of the cost of visiting Paris and London. Your money goes so much further; it’s such a good feeling to know that you can still travel to places relatively unknown and not have to break the bank to do it. Here are our top ten favorite Eastern European capital cities.
As much as I love visiting the countryside, villages, and smaller cities everywhere I go, traveling to capital cities are such a good way to be introduced to the country. The capital is where you will find at least one major historical museum, an art museum, great restaurants, government buildings, and usually a fantastic pubic transportation system so you can easily get around. It’s also the easiest place to visit in each country since it’s always serviced with an international airports. I love to go to capital cities on the weekend or for day trips, but if I’m building a country-wide itinerary for two weeks or longer, I tend to get out of the city right away, then come back and do these things at the end after I’ve seen the rest. That way when I go to the museum and the artist is from X town, I’ve been there and can relate to it much better. I do know a lot of travelers that concentrate on just the capital and big cities of a country, though, because there is always so much to do.
Without further ado, here is my list of ten European capital cities that you should put on your travel itinierary. These are all ones that we’ve fallen in love with and think you will too. We’ve listed the must-see history and art museum, plus our recommendations for a restaurant and hotel. We hope it will get you started!
Tallinn is one of the cities that really has been growing in popularity in the last few years. It is a small city, very walkable, and there is plenty to do. We enjoyed many of the museums, some tucked right into the wall towers, as well as the amazing food that they have to offer. Tallinn, more than most, celebrates their link to the Middle Ages with costumes, pubs, and people dressed up wandering the streets.
History: Fat Margaret Maritime Museum
Art: Kumu Art Museum
Restaurant: Rataskaevu 16
Helsinki is cold. We visited in winter, but sometimes I feel that you should go to a place when it’s the hardest. Of course they are used to winter, and we saw folks swimming in the heated, seaside pools while we were bundled from head to toe. Along with the list of mandatory tourist sites, we also warmed up in cafe after cafe. All of them were chic and cozy.
History: National Museum of Finland
Art: Ateneum Art Museum
Restaurant: Olo Ravintola
Hotel: Original Sokos Hotel Tapiola Garden Espoo
We visited this beautiful capital city on Sunday, which is always a good day to see what locals do. We walked around a flea market and joined the throngs of folks visiting the castle for lunch and shopping. With the Sava River running right through town, there are cafes, bakeries, and restaurants galore. We walked, gawked, and ate all day.
History: National Museum of Contemporary History
Art: National Gallery
Restaurant: Restavracija Strelec, in the Ljubljana castle
Hotel: Lesar Hotel Angel
We spent a weekend in Riga, at the end of fall so it was getting cool. Luckily, we were led around by a small group of locals, showing us things we might have discovered on our own but didn’t have to. We weren’t on a walking tour, but it’s one reason to take those free walking tours when you get to a city, you will always learn and see something you would have missed. Riga is also a medieval city, recognized by UNESCO, and it is gorgeous.
History: KGB Building File No. 1914/2014
Art: Latvian National Museum of Art
Hotel: Hotel Roma
Another winter foray, Lithuania gets extremely cold. We spent only a day in Vilnius but the stark and dreary weather just accentuated the main points of interest, since a lot of them revolve around the Soviet era. Great museums and beautiful architecture greet you on every street.
History: Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, National Museum
Art: National Art Gallery
Restaurant: Berneliu Uzeiga
Hotel: City Hotels Rūdninkai
We’ve been to Sofia twice; that’s how much we love it. Of all the cities we’ve visited, this one has many Ottoman and Byzantine remnants and churches that are so intriguing to visit. That with the amazing Bulgarian food, you can’t go wrong.
History: National Institute of Archaeology with Museum
Art: Museum of Socialist Art
Restaurant: Restaurant Shtastliveca
Hotel: Les Fleurs Boutique Hotel
Belgrade isn’t quite as bright and shiny as some of the other Eastern European capitals, but as you walk along the main pedestrian street you are captivated by the sunken book shops, the hipster cafes, and it’s not hard to imagine how bleak life was only a couple of decades ago.
History: Museum of Yugoslav History
Art: Galerija STAB
Restaurant: Zavicaj Restaurant
Hotel: Hotel Nevski
Skopje is really trying to renovate and update. As we walked around the downtown areas, full of statues, flower beds, flowers, cafes, museums, and old bazaars we noticed such an eclectic mix of old and new. It’s a city in flux, and it’s working hard to attract tourists.
History: Archaeological Museum of Macedonia
Art: Contemporary Art Museum of Macedonia
Restaurant: Skopski Merak
Hotel: Stone Bridge Hotel
With a lively downtown area, people were lounging, eating, drinking, and having a merry time all day and all night long. The beautiful downtown area had a lot to do, eat, and drink.
History: The National History Museum of Romania
Art: The National Museum of Art of Romania
Hotel: Grand Hotel Continental
Bratislava is located in a great triangle of cities to include Budapest and Vienna. The downtown area is colorful, vibrant, and full of things to do. It’s well worth a day trip.
History: Bratislava City Museum
Art: Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum
Restaurant: Bratislavsky Mestiansky pivovar
Hotel: Aplend City Hotel Michalska
We hope this quick guide will help you get started planning your weekend trips to some Eastern European capital cities. We don’t think you will be disappointed.
Have you been to any of these cities? What was your favorite spot?
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